For your work placement abroad, would you like to go to a slightly unusual destination in Europe? Latvia is an ideal destination to discover: it’s beautiful, it’s chilled out and its culinary specialities are very different from those we know in Western Europe. There’s no need to go to the ends of the earth to discover a different culture and get a taste of different cultures. To help you prepare for your work placement abroad, we’ve put together a few blog posts on cooking: food is very important ? Some dishes may seem surprising, even strange, but if you’re open to an unforgettable gastronomic trip to Latvia, you’ll want to take all the food home with you. All joking aside, it’s not easy to find a restaurant or a book on Latvian cuisine in France!

The composition of food in Latvia

Latvia offers a relatively varied cuisine. For starters, it’s fairly similar to Russian cuisine, with lots of smoked fish, particularly herring, salmon and eel. There are also lots of hot soups and ravioli such as pelmenis and pirogis. Latvia also has a lot of salads made from potatoes, beetroot and apples, and some with lots and lots of mayonnaise.

The dishes are often accompanied by chips – I think that’s absolutely unbeatable anywhere in the world! – peas or mushroom fricassee. And the Latvian is above all a meat eater, mainly pork, but also beef and chicken. There are many recipes for meat prepared over a wood fire, steaks and dishes in sauce. For those who prefer fish, there are plenty on offer too: salmon, sturgeon, eel, trout, carp and the traditional eel. I had the opportunity to try the latter, which is very, very strong in the mouth and quite special: personally I didn’t like it ?

Desserts are a much-loved delicacy: it’s impossible to have a meal without a dessert in Latvia. However, they are very special, and far from what we are used to: oat porridge, berry-based desserts, pies, pancakes, dark bread cake with honey, apple-based desserts, cherry-based desserts, sponge cakes, etc. The first time I went to Latvia, I tried the black bread cake: not too bad!

Food culture in Latvia

Some habits are a little different from Western Europe! For example, weddings are often organised in autumn. This tradition dates back to the time of the Harvest festival: food was abundant at that time of year, and so peasant weddings were often organised during this period of the year; bread was made from the harvested seeds, and black puddings and pieces of pig’s head, as well as piglet or mutton, were cooked. Pīrāgi (bacon rolls) filled with chopped bacon and onion are still prepared today at almost all Latvian festivals.

For Christmas too, Latvians have very specific dishes, and more generally even in winter, which come from ancestral traditions and are still eaten today by a large part of the population. The head of a pig with barley, boiled grey peas (with bacon of course, no kidding!). These dishes are usually accompanied by rūgušpiens or kefīrs (curdled milk or fermented milk). Black pudding with barley is also a typical winter dish. In western Latvia, sklandu rauši (pies filled with mashed potatoes and carrots) is a traditional Christmas snack. Even today, the most popular winter dish in Latvia is grilled pork with sauerkraut!

Jāņi Day is a very popular festival in Latvia, marking the shortest night of the year! And it’s still very much celebrated today throughout the country, with traditional songs and a cuisine that has evolved a little to meet outdoors and is now more suited to organising big picnics: salads, sausages, grilled meats… and beer, of course: you don’t have to let it get you down.

Modern food culture in Latvia

For breakfast, it’s coffee or tea, accompanied by cheese sandwiches, sausage, tomatoes or cucumber; omelettes and eggs are also available. But what is absolutely essential is dairy products: all Latvians have them for breakfast. This was quite true in France too, not so long ago, but this habit has now largely been lost.

Lunch is taken at the same time as in France, around 1pm. It’s usually hot, with fried meat (pork chops, rissoles, sautéed beef fillet, steak or chicken) or fish (salmon, trout, cod or sardines), potatoes (boiled, fried or chopped), boiled rice or buckwheat, and a fresh salad. It is often accompanied by creamy vegetables such as carrots. It’s also often served with hot soups or meat soups! I told you they ate a lot of meat!

Dinner is the same: same times as in France. At this time of day, there is great culinary diversity, with supper consisting either of soup and a variety of salads, or a hot meal (similar to lunch), or a more traditional dish, such as a milk-based soup. But, like many ‘rich’ countries, it’s now the ready-made meals that are all the rage: Latvians are eating more and more of them!

The potato pancake

Potatoes, in general, are extremely important to Latvian cuisine as they are one of the vegetables that can easily grow in the local fields. As the name suggests, the potato pancake is a potato-based pancake that can be served with cheese or grass. Sorry for my Breton origins, which are blubbering as I write this.

The Rupjmaize

Rupjmaize is a traditional Latvian bread made from whole rye, baked in a hearth oven and shaped into an elongated loaf. It has a unique flavour that is both sour and sweet: it’s excellent, but very different from the flavours we’re used to. Open your mind!

Beetroot soup

Beetroot soup is a unique Latvian dish, also very popular in Lithuania; and quite generally in Eastern Europe. At first, it may taste a bit strange, but let’s be honest: nobody expects soup to be purple, and it’s often eaten cold with special ingredients (kefir, eggs or cucumber): it’s excellent, and I cook it from time to time because I really enjoy it!

Latvian karbonade

Latvian karbonade is a thinly sliced pork chop coated with flour and eggs. It is another Latvian dish, but in Latvia it is a popular main course, often prepared in the family home.

Rye bread

When you’re on work experience, you’ll see that rye bread is extremely popular in Latvia, and there are many varieties, including black sour or sweet rye. Latvians love to serve rye with almost any dish. It is also commonly eaten with cheese and ham for breakfast. Latvian cuisine is a bit like German meets Russian! It’s a varied and astonishing cuisine, which I strongly recommend you discover! However, before you set off on your work placement in Latvia, I recommend that you read our article about the country. And to give you an idea, Bertrand went on a work placement in Latvia with International Horizons and left us a testimonial, which you can find on the International Horizons blog.

Even though Latvian cuisine may seem a bit atypical, it is above all simple and friendly. If you would like to do your internship abroad in Latvia and discover this special cuisine, click here.

For more general questions, visit the International Horizons Internships Abroad FAQ.